Should the Atlanta Braves experiment with a 6-man rotation?

Are there any benefits to utilizing a six-man rotation in Major League Baseball?
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

This year, MLB is experiencing a wave of injuries to starting pitchers. The Braves are no stranger to this. They go through it every year: Soroka, Wright, Fried, Anderson, Strider… it’s a repetitive cycle of injuries that require extensive periods of recovery. One key fact to consider is athletes are finely tuned machines. One small tweak the wrong way could mean the difference between success and a season-ending injury.

Every five games, starting pitchers take the mound, throw 90+ mph fastballs, and keep it up for around 70-100 pitches. The first thing is to acknowledge that pitching puts a lot of stress on the arm. That’s why pitchers get days of rest. Starters pitch every fifth game and managers are careful not to overuse their relievers. But this is what it’s always been in this era of baseball. So, what can be done to limit these injuries?

There is no one answer as every case is different. However, in recent years, the idea of a six-man rotation has been as floated as a major preventative measure. It has already been tested, but it seems that teams at the major league level have abandoned it in favor of the typical five-man rotation. Let’s go over the pros and cons before specifically applying it to the Braves.



Provides starters more time to recuperate before another outing reducing injury risk

Over-rest can cause inconsistent performance

Starters pitch fewer innings throughout the season reducing injury risk

Puts added strain on the bullpen as the roster spot will be needed for another starter

More rest typically allows for better performance

Using a prospect or sixth starter who may not be MLB-ready or performs poorly can hurt the team’s record

Better for double-headers

Reduces chances of starters winning awards due to lack of innings

No bullpen games

Gives prospective starters the chance to gain experience and prove themselves in the majors

Midseason type performance may last longer due to reduced innings

What does it look like when a 6-man rotation doesn’t work?

This method may not be for every team. For example, let’s look at the New York Yankees. Last year, the Yankee ace, Gerrit Cole, won the AL Cy Young Award. Yankees fans wanted to see him pitch every fifth game because he gave his team the best shot at winning. He often carried the team deep into games. His 209 innings pitched was second in the majors behind Logan Webb.

This year, he is on the IL and is yet to pitch a game this season. However, if the Yankees used a prospect as a sixth starter to alleviate the stress on Cole, this may have cost them games as their pitching prospects may not have been entirely ready to take on the role. In addition, Cole may not have won the Cy Young Award.

The Braves have several options to make a 6-man rotation work

Atlanta has utilized this option before during the 2018 season as they worked through September. Most teams don't have the depth required to make this work.

Luckily for the Braves, they don’t have this problem. They have plenty of pitching talent that can potentially take the step: Smith-Shawver, Vines, Waldrep, Dodd, and potentially more. With Strider gone, Bryce Elder is proving he can handle the 5th spot in the rotation. But let’s not forget Ian Anderson.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, he is working his way back and will hopefully make an impact this season. If he does make his way back this year, the Braves will have a decision to make regarding Elder. But rather than demote Elder, who did a good job last year and didn’t give up a run in his one start this year, the Braves could utilize him in a six-man rotation. Until Anderson is ready to come back, the Braves have a talented group to choose from.

Darius Vines has already had two stints with the Braves; one last year and one this year. Of his two starts this season, one was good and the other wasn't. After giving up 4 runs in 5 innings to the Texas Rangers, he was quickly optioned. With an intriguing first start behind him, it was somewhat surprising that he wasn’t given much of a chance. The argument can be made to promote him and allow him to gain more experience in the big leagues as a sixth starter. Down the road, he can make a sizeable impact for the Braves if they give him the chance to do so. Keeping this in mind, does the 6-man rotation make sense for the Braves? Let's look at this season's rotation:

Braves 5-man starting rotation

Max Fried (LHP)

Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)

Chris Sale (LHP)

Charlie Morton (RHP)

Bryce Elder (RHP)

***Ian Anderson (RHP) will likely be returning this year

The injury question and potential drawbacks

If and when Anderson comes back, Elder would probably be sent down. That means the Braves rotation will have three pitchers (Anderson, Fried, and Sale) with histories of injury (Morton has been injured twice in his current Braves tenure but did not miss an extended period of time). In any case, the Braves might really benefit from a 6-man rotation, but there are some drawbacks.

Reynaldo Lopez has a genuine shot at the NL Cy Young Award this year. He maintains the lowest ERA in the MLB with a 0.72. Having him on the mound gives the team their best chance of winning. Likewise, fans want to see him pitch. Making Lopez pitch every six games instead of five may keep his arm well-rested for the postseason, but it might cause the Braves to lose games he might have won and it would destroy his shot at the Cy Young Award. In the end, any discussion on expanding the rotation would need to center around what’s best for the team.

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